Friday, June 14, 2024

ARGENTINA | 28-05-2024 15:38

Milei tinkers with Cabinet in bid to prioritise ‘political dialogue’

New Cabinet Chief Guillermo Francos vowed Tuesday to bring his political expertise to bear on negotiations for economic reform, conceding that diplomacy is not President Javier Milei's forte.

Argentina’s new Cabinet Chief Guillermo Francos vowed Tuesday to bring his political expertise to bear on negotiations for economic reform, conceding that diplomacy is not his boss’ forte.

The previous evening, President Javier Milei removed Nicolás Posse from his post and appointed Francos, a former interior minister, as Cabinet chief.

The Cabinet chief is the highest-ranked ministerial post in the government. Francos has been chosen at a time when Milei’s government is trying to push a rash of budget-cutting and economic liberalisation reforms through Congress, where the ruling party is in a minority.

Francos said Tuesday he has arrived to spark “dialogue” with political leaders.

“The president chose me because Argentine politics is complicated for him,” Francos said at a press conference on Tuesday as he took up his post.

President Milei, meanwhile, departed for the United States on Thursday for a trip that will see him meet with CEOs, tech entrepreneurs and business leaders. He will be out of the country until Friday.

The Cabinet change comes in a key week for the government. The Senate is due to set a date for debate and voting on Milei’s sweeping ‘omnibus’ reform bill, which has already won approval in the lower house. 

The government had tried to pass the bill back in January, but the ‘Ley de Bases’ (as it is also known) failed to win legislative approval and was prompt withdrawn by Milei. Since then, the massive bill has been slashed to a third of its original size, but the upper house seems keen on introducing changes to its hundreds of articles. 

“Our political space, the government, has a very marked parliamentary minority, so it is not only the government's decision but also requires the will of other political sectors,” Francos said Tuesday as he took questions about the government's difficulties in Congress.

Francos, 74, is an experienced negotiator with a moderate tone that contrasts with President  Milei’s ego and eccentricities. For months the former Interior minister has been quietly working to clear the way for parliamentary approval for the mega-reform, which include changes to labour law, pension law, the privatisation of public companies and controversial incentives for large foreign investors.

“The president has asked me to give a boost to the administration in combination with the political situation,” Francos told reporters on Tuesday.

The new Cabinet chief also revealed that his appointment clears the way for a “reorganisation” of his portfolio, which will absorb the Interior Minister he previously led.

A new Ministry or Secretariat is also set to be created for economist Federico Sturzenegger, former head of the Central Bank (2015-2018).

“It is a decision by the President that Federico will join the Cabinet in a ministry whose name will be resolved in the coming days but that will have to do with modernisation of the state and economic deregulation,” explained Francos.

He stressed that the President, an economist by profession, is focused on resolving the country's macroeconomic issues.

“This is the first time there has been a President who is a minister of the economy,” Francos said.

“He is absolutely in tune with his economy minister,” Luis Caputo, who is accompanying Milei on his trip to the United States, added Francos.

Mile was a political outsider when he won election last year on a wave of anti-government sentiment, vowing to halt Argentina's decades of economic decline.

After nearly six months in power, his government is at a turning point. 

Its austerity measures have helped to slow inflation – though it remains sky-high – and Milei has boasted the first budget surplus in more than a decade.

But the economy contracted by 5.3 percent in the first quarter of 2024, tens of thousands of jobs have been lost and half the population now lives in poverty.

The government is counting on its package of deregulatory reforms to improve matters, though Milei has repeatedly warned things will get worse before they get better.


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